Okay I didn’t want to write a Beyonce think piece but I need the internet to help me clarify something. Over at The New Yorker, Sasha Frere Jones ticked me off by stating that “I woke up like this” was a way of saying how awesome you are, and here Shalewa talks about her discomfort with the juxtaposition of Chimamanda’s speech with the words “i look so good toniiiiiiiight.”
But am I wrong in thinking that “I woke up like this” and “I look so good tonight” are both intended to be statements on how women now feel the need not only to defend our looks, but to somehow normalize the effort we put into making ourselves look good? About how it’s become one more standard we have to live up to, and one more double standard for the expectations placed on men versus women. In the same way Chimamanda calls society out in her speech for teaching “girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the same way boys are,” Beyonce is calling us out for needing to defend how we look/act/think at all times, when men don’t have to defend themselves in the same way at the offset. Even on the flip side, that we have to defend ourselves when we DO look good, that there has to be a purpose behind it. That there’s one more level of justification for our actions than there is for men.
My initial reaction when I heard “I woke up like this” was that she’s quoting the woman in the movies who runs into the bathroom before the man wakes up, applies mascara and lipgloss, brushes her teeth, and then poses herself perfectly in bed and coughs gently to get him to wake up and see how “naturally beautiful” she is. I heard the line as a sarcastic criticism of the need to be perfect (“perfection is a disease of a nation”) at all times, understanding that by saying we’re flawless, we’re not saying we’re perfectly put together by a man’s standards from the moment we wake up. Waking up flawless also indicates that women are expected to be perfect and innocent by nature, and our acts - acts we’re entirely responsible for - are what create the flaws throughout the day. (The Fall of Eve, Pandora’s Box, etc.)
To me the two lines are not saying “I’m awesome” or “I’m perfectly beautiful”; they’re being used to reclaim the word “flawless” for something greater than personal appearance or perfection, and pointing to the unjust inequality of women being forced to be on the defensive based on looks/actions/whatever. (+ the unjust inequality of the standards of personal grooming/ + the unjust inequality of having to defend whether or not we take our husband’s name / + the unjust inequality of looking good tonight being somehow only for the function of attraction, not for some other purpose such as self-esteem)
Or am I over-thinking it? Do I have it totally wrong?
that’s a very interesting take i would have never considered, because i NEVER think of sarcasm when i think of beyonce’s lyrics. i think of slang innovation or daily affirmations. a lot of her lyrics have a you go girl/you can do anything and look great doing it/you got this quality. my assumption is that she is singing for the ladies who feel low - and ladies tend to feel low about their appearance.
i think my main problem wasn’t the declaration of “i woke up like this” but the calling it “flawless” in the next breath. i will gladly proclaim that i’m keeping it real, but i will also admit that my “real” is a real mess. i think it’s okay to do so and i think it’s important for black women (who have historically been kind of sideways written off as always being strong) to know that it’s okay if the this you woke up like is a mess. maybe that’s what the song is trying to do! i don’t know! so much thinking! but i will use it to try to get closer to this “flawless.” i believe the bible calls it “fake it til you make it.”
even though i have no idea how to properly explain my thoughts, i thoroughly enjoy having this discussion!